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Riots: Behavioral Aspects - Types Of Riots

typology janowitz ideology communal

Given the extent of historical variation in riot activity, some scholars have sought to generate schema to distinguish certain kinds of riot events from other forms of riot violence. One such typology, developed by Morris Janowitz, focuses on the targets of riot violence. Whereas some riots predominantly involved personal assaults by members of one racial/ethnic group against members of another group, other riots were characterized primarily by attacks on property. Janowitz refers to the former as "communal," the latter as "commodity" riots. His typology is quite useful for distinguishing among race riots prior to and after World War II. Specifically, Janowitz noted a shift from prewar riots, which typically emerged at the borders of ethnic communities and reflected competition for turf, and postwar riots, which involved segregated African Americans seeking to challenge the white-dominated power structure by targeting government buildings and white-owned businesses. Employing this typology, Bergesen and Herman argue that we have recently witnessed a shift back from the commodity riots of the 1960s toward a communal pattern of violence in places like Miami and Los Angeles, where immigrants and blacks contend for jobs, housing, and turf. Yet, in contrast to Janowitz's typology, most riots, including those in Miami and Los Angeles, have involved some combination of property damage and personal assaults. As such it is best to think of communal and commodity riots as "ideal types" rather than mutually exclusive categories.

Like Janowitz, Gary Marx developed a typology of riots, but based his schema on two different dimensions: the presence of a guiding ideology or "generalized belief" and the perception that rioting would achieve some collective purpose. The first category of riots, incorporating both elements, roughly corresponds to the "commodity-type riot" with protest motivated by an antiregime ideology and a sense of collective purpose. This category also includes prison riots and bread riots. The second category corresponds to that of "communal riots," events that express a collective ideology but display no instrumental purpose other than venting animosity. By contrast, Marx suggested that some riots lack any motivating ideology, such as those that often follow sporting victories or are incited by police without provocation. These events, Marx states, are properly categorized as "issueless riots." Turner uses similar criteria to define the Miami and Los Angeles riots as "primitive rebellions" due to their lack of clear ideological or instrumental focus.

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